A gay rights pressure group has condemned Nigeria’s anti-gay marriage bill, warning that its passing would cause significant problems for other countries.

Changing Attitudes Nigeria (CAN), an Anglican Church pressure group on LGBT rights, attacked a bill that would ban same-sex marriage and imprison anyone associated with promoting gay rights.

Davis Mac-Iyalla, head of Changing Attitudes Nigeria, warned that acceptance of the bill would see vast numbers of Nigerians fleeing to other countries to escape persecution.

“Already we are seeing an increase in homophobic behaviour and attacks, because people feel they can get away with it. The climate is already becoming intolerable”, said Mac-Iyalla.

“Unless the government tones down its language and cancels the bill, we are going to see a flood of refugees as people flee for their lives,” he warned.

The proposed legislation was introduced by President Olusegun Obasanjo in February 2006 and according the BBC, parliamentary insiders have said that the bill is likely to be passed by both chambers of the Nigeria National Assembly by the end of this month.

The legislation has attracted loud protest from across the world.

In March 2006, sixteen international human rights groups signed a letter condemning the bill saying that it “contravenes the basic rights to freedom of expression, conscience, association, and assembly.”

New York based Human Rights Watch said in a statement:

“This draconian measure will only intensify prejudice and discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

The group also warned that the bill would make it harder to combat Aids in Nigeria since it would make some of the work being carried out by HIV prevention groups illegal.

But Emmanuel Onwubiko, a senior commissioner at Nigeria’s Human Rights Commission told the BBC:

“Supporters of the same-sex marriage in Nigeria don’t know what they are saying. As far as we are concerned, gay marriage is not allowed in Africa.

“If South Africa want to do it, that is their business. It is not Nigerian to by gay, let alone going ahead to legally get married as gay and even live as a family with adopted children.

It’s completely alien to our culture,” he added.

Nigeria has a population of roughly 117 million.

6.5% of the population is conservatively estimated to be gay putting at least 760,000 Nigerians at threat from imprisonment.

“If only a fraction of those sought sanctuary elsewhere, that would still create a headache for countries that Nigerians would naturally flee to,” warns Davis Mac-Iyalla.

Nigeria, like many African countries, is notoriously conservative on issues such as homosexuality.

It is currently banned in the Nigerian penal code and in Muslim law. Furthermore, in around a dozen northern states which are under Islamic Sharia law, it is punishable by death by stoning.

The country also has the world’s third-highest population of Aids suffers with around 3.6 million people infected with HIV.

Last week the European Parliament adopted a resolution on human rights violations in Nigeria and called on them not to adopt the bill currently being debated.

Patricia Prendiville, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said:

“We welcome the European Parliament’s stance on human rights violations in Nigeria.

“We fear that the current outrageous bill outlawing any activities representing and protecting the human rights of LGBT people in Nigeria is not prominently dealt with by the Parliament and this issue might loose its momentum by being shelved together with other ongoing human rights concerns in Nigeria.”